Mary Dickson Diaz

Code, Life, Learning

Category: Life (page 1 of 2)

now we are four

Hello readers! It’s been awhile.

This happened:


Some other life happened as well!

  • I was promoted to senior software engineer at my job
  • We sold our house and bought another one about a mile away, which we are sharing with my mom
  • Kiddo #1 is in pre-school, if you can believe that

Our family is now four people (plus bonus Grammy), and this fall is my 4 years of experience in the software industry anniversary. I’ve been meaning to write about the transition to a senior role, what it looks like and how it happened. So why haven’t I? First off: it’s complicated. Secondly, I’ve been pregnant all year, which means TIRED ALL THE TIME. This pregnancy was rough on me, but thankfully resulted in a pretty darn-near perfect baby.

I’m on family leave through the end of the year, and recovery is going a lot easier than last time. Which means… you guessed it… I’m itching for a new programming project. Here are some ideas I’m floating around:

  • Build a Rails app using Rails 6 — my current work at job is all in a very outdated version of Rails 3, with little chance of an upgrade.
  • Make a project with React — I do a lot of this at work, but it’s all behind the company repo and I have no personal projects to show in a portfolio.
  • Update/document earlier projects with new technology. I think it might be fun to revisit some of my past projects with fresh eyes and experience, and document what I choose to do differently.

Help, I want to learn new tech, but I’m out of project ideas. Solution: re-make something that already exists.

I’ll leave it there for now. Maybe some more writing coming this year. Thanks for reading.

the worst fun

A few weeks ago, just before 10pm on a Tuesday evening, we welcomed our son Aurelio (Leo) into the world:


We had hired a birth doula to assist with the delivery, which was a great decision, but I was unprepared for how hectic the days and week(s) immediately following the birth would be. I had this idea that while the baby is young, we could just strap him in a carrier and go about our daily routines. Baby is hungry? Give him a boob. Baby is upset? Give him a boob. Dirty diaper? Change it. Crying baby? Sooth him. (Or, stick him in the Rock and Play.) Everyone said it would be hard, and we’d need help, but I still thought that labor was the tough part and recovery afterwards would be exactly that… recovery.

I was so wrong. What followed was a period of what my husband described as “the worst fun ever.”

We spent two nights in the hospital and were released on Thursday afternoon. During that time, a parade of nurses and doctors came through at all hours for various tests, to impart crucial information, and to help us with things like breastfeeding, staying hydrated, and using the bathroom (me). And then somehow, inconceivably, we were home with our 3 day old and little man would NOT eat and what was that nurse hotline number again?!?

We really struggled to get breastfeeding going, and he lost more weight than normal — it’s a huge stressor to be recovering from a major body trauma, operating on little to no sleep, and feel unable to feed your child. We’ve since gotten some help and made major strides with feeding and weight gain, and I’m feeling positively human again (like, 60%).

For all you moms about to give birth, here’s some things I wish I had known about the first week:

  • Call a relative who doesn’t annoy you, preferably one who has given birth, and bring them in to help as soon as possible. My husband and I wanted to “establish our routine with baby” before accepting help from family. No ma’am. If you can afford it, hire a postpartum doula. I needed help with baby stuff like breastfeeding, as well as things like staying fed, hydrated, and medicated. Laundry and dishes. There are lots of articles out there about how to best support new parents, but unless you’ve been there yourself or been around new parents, you may not know this stuff (I did not).
  • Order a double electric breast pump. Health insurance should cover this. I ordered through and it was easy — click “insurance orders” from the top menu. You can do this as early as a month prior to your due date. Various breastfeeding advocates may tell you that you should be exclusively feeding from the boob and there’s no need to pump for the first few months — fuck that. You may very well need to pump to feed your kid, and manual pumping sucks. You’ll want to have an electric pump ready to go (you can also rent from a hospital). I went with the tried and true Medela Pump in Style.
  • Same for a pacifier. We got some of these. Buy or register for a pacifier and if anyone tries that “nothing but breast” guilt crap on you, punch them right in the boob.
  • Get a bra designed for hands-free pumping, like this Simple Wishes bra. After pumping for a week, I also bought some fancy accessories, like flanges that point down (so you don’t have to sit hunched over while pumping) and bags that let you sterilize the equipment in a microwave.
  • Schedule an appointment, or multiple appointments, with a lactation consultant. Maybe for some women and their babies, breastfeeding is easy? That was not my experience. We used the Lytle Center at Swedish Hospital — they are great — or even better, look for someone who will come to your home.

INTERJECTION: NOT LEAVING YOUR HOME IS ACES. I’ve seen / heard of these new moms who are up and on the go and having coffee and social engagements on day 4. Bananas, I say. I plan to avoid all unnecessary social interactions outside my house for at least a month. Which is a good segway into…

  • Get a big plush cushy robe and just wear that plus a nursing bra and leggings/PJ pants (and some cozy socks). Don’t worry about spending a shitload of money on this, because you’re going to wear it for a month. Forgot those fancy nursing tops with the lift-up secret panels and etc. — maybe in month 2. Or 3.
  • Schedule an in-home massage with someone who specializes in postpartum. I’d venture that day 4/5 or after would be best for this. I got one this week and could easily do it every week. Your body is recovering from a MAJOR trauma. Don’t think of this as a luxury so much as a medical necessity. Also it helps prevent postpartum depression.
  • Schedule a meal train. We signed up for because several friends offered, and it’s been a great way to organize meals and allow friends and family to help and meet the baby while keeping the family fed. Out of town family and friends can also participate by having food delivered.
  • Buy a car seat cover. For some reason, it really bothered me to have strangers ogling my child when we had to take him out for any reason (doctor, lactation consultant, grocery store on the way home). If this is you, you can get a muslin car seat cover for under $20.
  • More about boobs:
    • This saline plus coconut oil trick helped with sore nipples
    • Get some Lansinoh Lanolin Cream — this stuff is great and not having to wash it off before baby nurses is key. I did not care for the reusable gel pads as much, but some people swear by them.
    • I had a good deal of nipple pain following the first few nights of feeding a very tongue-tied baby, and this prescription nipple ointment was a godsend. So, find someone who can write you a prescription for it.
    • Mother’s milk tea — the stuff with cardamom tastes great. It might help, it might not. I drank it anyway.
    • Fenugreek — the bottle says take 3 pills daily, my lactation specialist says take twice that amount. So, I take 6 pills daily and smell like maple syrup.
    • I got a Boppy pillow and a “My Brest Friend” — the latter helped a lot in the first few days, but now I just use a regular pillow.

A good friend told me that I won’t even remember the first week — a new mom is too exhausted to form long-term memories. I believe her because apparently some people go on to have additional children after all this.

It is the best worst fun a person can have.

gestational diababies

A few weeks back, I flunked my 27 week glucose test, used to diagnose gestational diabetes. I’ve always been an overachiever, even in failure, and my blood sugar level for the 1 hour test was no exception: they were looking for a number between 100 – 140; I scored a 220.

When the nurse called to give me the results, I was polite but dubious because I feel fine and despite adding on a few extra pounds the past year, I still think of myself as pretty solid, health-wise. There’s no history of diabetes in my family. So honestly, my first hypothesis was: “they must have given me the wrong dosage.” I went back in for the longer, three hour test to confirm, which I failed again (just barely, this time).

And that is how I found myself on a diet and exercise regime in my third trimester, which is not a nice thing to do to a pregnant person btw. The good news — and this was surprising to me — is that no foods are completely off-limits. The goal instead is to spread out the consumption of carbs/sugars and eat them with foods containing protein and fat for balance.

Me: “So what I’m hearing is that I can still eat ice cream.”
Nutritionist: “Yes, but look at the portion size.”

Witness the gestational diabetes eating plan, in all its comic sans glory:

No one can agree on how to spell placemat, apparently.

Each bullet item in the yellow bucket is approximately 15 carbs. You get 150 to eat throughout the day: 30 for breakfast, 30-45 each for lunch and dinner, and 15 for each of 3 snacks. (They say the food items on the right side have “little to no carbs” a serving but that is a LIE because every damn thing has carbs added.)

I spent the week after seeing a nutritionist following the plan and testing my blood sugar four times a day, and was feeling pretty good about the results — no spikes after meals, no numbers over 140 ever (I still think that 220 was a fluke). My morning fasting blood sugar was a tiny bit higher than where it was supposed to be, but overall I went back for my follow-up appointment feeling v. pleased with myself and also a little “anytime y’all want to admit that this was a mistake, I will accept an apology graciously.”

Instead, she tells me, Actually, that fasting blood sugar is the one we really care about…”


“We can try experimenting with the nighttime snack, but I’m probably going to recommend medicine to try to help lower the morning numbers.”

Medicine? Por moi? But… but… I’m rocking this thing! Which isn’t even real!

“And now, let’s talk about how you’re going to incorporate diet and exercise into your postpartum life because it is really very important to lose the baby weight within 6 months since you’re now at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.”

Is it impolite to walk out of the nutritionist’s office midway through an appointment? Because I did not, but I did shoot the poor woman eye daggers for the remainder of our time together. (It’s not her fault, she was just doing her job.)

A few weeks later, on meds, I’m still struggling to get my morning blood sugar fasting numbers consistently below 95, and finally willing to admit “ok, perhaps this is A Thing after all.” It’s been tough to find any pattern between the high numbers and the low. Some days I think it’s affected by quality of sleep, some days by whether I met my walking goals (aiming for both of these can’t be a bad thing). The concern for baby’s health is that any excess sugars in my blood that can’t get absorbed into cells due to the heightened insulin resistance can travel freely across the placenta into baby, meaning baby gets BIGGER, more monitoring is required, and this potentially impacts our birthing options.

I’m trying not to stress about it, but that’s what’s going on at the moment. (I had ice cream twice yesterday and low numbers this morning, so perhaps more ice cream is in order.) Solidarity to any of you who may be in the same boat, and thanks for sticking around for anyone else who’s just here for the code.

and life happens, the sql

'hello world' baby bodysuit

shipping this October…

Hey there readers, it’s been awhile since I updated this site. Life’s been overwhelming (in a good way), and has required all my focus on one day at a time.

I started this blog in late 2014 a few weeks before quitting my job to document the journey of becoming a software engineer, and in some ways that story is now DONE — this July, after a year and a half of training and independent project work, I started a full-time position as a software engineer with Experticity, the company that acquired and merged with ReadyPulse, where I’ve been contracting for the last three months.

I went into that three-month contract under the following assumption: “This will be a great, foot-in-the-door way to get some industry experience, but temporary, because NO WAY are they gonna hire a career-changing pregnant (!!) junior developer on full-time.” This false assumption was debunked thusly:

  1. My pregnancy (which I disclosed early in the contract period, as soon as it was “safe” to do so, medically speaking) did not impact the decision to bring me on full-time, or not, which yeah yeah yeah I know it is “the law” but look, discrimination happens, and I’m grateful it turned out to be not an issue for me or my company.  My advice to others in a similar situation is to seek out a workplace where “family friendly” is a genuine part of the company culture — not just because they say the words, but where employees, including senior management, *have families*.
  2. I turned out to be not as junior as I thought — I’m on a steep learning curve and still have a ton to learn, but I’ve been able to contribute and add value to the company right away, while developing my skills as a software developer and engineer. From that point of view, the decision to continue on full-time was a no-brainer for me and the company. I credit this to my past professional experience, as well as my software training from Code Fellows and Kal Academy — where I not only learned Rails and algorithms, but more broadly: how to learn software, how to work on an Agile team, how to set up a development environment, how to debug, how to ask good questions, etc.

So, yeah… I am employed. And we’re pregnant! I’m 28 weeks along today, and due in mid-October.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others having a baby in the middle of a career change, but I wouldn’t not recommend it either — life happens when it happens. It’s gonna be tough to leave our little baby to return to work, and I’m incredibly lucky to be in a situation where I have exciting work ahead of me, both personally and professionally. (And a great spouse excited about it all, and a generous maternity leave courtesy of my job — oh look we’re hiring.)

The story is not done, of course — I want to keep writing about what I’m learning and doing to develop myself as a developer in these early stages. And about navigating this space as a new mom. A friend referred me to this Ruby on Ales talk titled “Baby Driven Development,” which is a fantastic 30 minute watch if you’re a parent, parent-to-be, or work with anyone who is.

Future posts will probably continue to be less frequent, and might go baby shaped for a while, but I still like making them, so thanks for reading. 🙂

2015 Year in Review

2015 was a banner year! It was a year focused on beginnings and new adventures: some carefully planned, some spontaneous, some scary, some sad, all worthwhile. I’m so excited to see where this year’s foundation takes us next year and all the years to come.

– In January, I quit my job, effectively pausing a decade-long non-profit fundraising career, to learn how to code. Since then, I’ve run the gamut of classes with Code Fellows, culminating with an 8-week intensive course in advanced web development in Ruby on Rails. I’m currently working with Code Fellows as a Teaching Assistant while looking for full-time opportunities as a software developer.


Code Fellows Ruby on Rails graduate class, October 2015

– We bought a house! I love our home in the heart of south Seattle’s Hillman City neighborhood. Living in a small space has forced me to focus on the things I own and what’s really valuable / brings me joy (yes I read that Kon Mari book). This was also the year I discovered Buy Nothing, which has made the process of giving away things I’m not using to people who want/need them much more enjoyable. We made some major (but un-fun) investments in things like securing the foundation. Next year I look forward to more aesthetic changes and improvements to make the house even more livable and enjoyable for us and our visitors.

Holiday spirit has arrived (yes it is wearing a lampshade hat and ready to party)

A photo posted by @marythought on

– I married my favorite person and we celebrated a joyous day with family and friends. Weddings are expensive, a headache, and come with a lot of familiar baggage, but I wouldn’t change mine for anything. The whole weekend was one of the best of my life. I especially loved how well Josh’s family and mine meshed together (a rare and wonderful thing).



– We spent three weeks traveling around Greece and Turkey on our honeymoon, chronicled here.



– Starts and stops in growing our family — after experiencing an ectopic pregnancy this fall, we were thrilled to be expecting again soon after and sadly lost the pregnancy around 8 weeks, after seeing a viable pregnancy with heartbeat at 6. This experience has opened me up to a fellowship of “it happened to me too,” and radicalized me on women’s reproductive rights issues. The decisions to pursue or terminate a pregnancy should be between a woman and her doctor, period. I believed it before and believe it even more strongly now, having experienced some of the conversations and experiences that some politicians would like to legislate.

– My first Twitterbot, focused on the women who served as code-crackers at Bletchley Park during WW2, just passed 100 followers! I’ve heard from the children and grandchildren of veterans with pictures and more information about their relatives. In learning how to code in python, I accidentally created something that enables people to share their stories– I love this, and it’s helped me focus my programming goals on the desire to engage with work that’s both fun for me and valuable to a broader community.


– I kept this blog alive for a year! Happy birthday, blog. I wasn’t sure how programming-focused I could keep the posts while still maintaining a readership and personal interest, but those have turned out to be some of my favorite posts. (I do appreciate that you let me blog about things like my honeymoon though, and I plan to keep doing that!) Some personal blog highlights:

My biggest goal for 2016 is to find sustainable work as a developer — so here’s a link to my resume, if you can help. Cheers and happy new year to you and yours!

the unhappy path


Mount Rainier as seen from Seward Park, 9/9/15

(Heads up: this post deals with a health issue of a personal nature, invoking a metaphor from my experience learning Behavior Driven Development (BDD) testing. I felt it was important to share my experience, not only with friends and family but with others, internet searchers, who might be facing something similar. If that makes you uncomfortable or seems too intimate based on our limited relationship, feel free to give this one a pass.)

In my class we’ve been studying behavior-driven development (BDD), a relative of test-driven development (TDD), which takes an approach of: let’s write tests first that describe how we want our app to behave, and then write the code to make those tests pass.

So for example, here’s a simple test excerpt for the main section of my in-progress portfolio page:

feature "CanAccessStaticPages" do
  scenario "on the index page" do
    visit ""
    page.must_have_content "Mary Dickson Diaz"
    page.wont_have_content "hookers and blow"

You can program your tests to click on things and fill in information to test, say, posting a blog post, or a log-in/log-out function. “Or you could just go click on stuff and see if it’s working” –yes but writing the tests in advance, and keeping them updated, saves immense developer time and energy over time, over changes, and when coding on teams and to scale.

Continue reading

voices that matter

I came across this article by Rainier Beach HS student Ifrah Abshir. It’s terrific, I encourage everyone to read the whole thing:

Fighting Inequality In Seattle, Students Lead Protests to Change School and Transit Policies

Some highlights (emphasis mine):

As a black and Muslim immigrant, I could write for days about the ways in which my family has experienced racism in the United States – both at the individual and institutional levels. Being a young person, one of the primary sources of the institutional racism I experience is the public school system.

The school I currently attend is Rainier Beach High School, located in South Seattle. Although Seattle is one of the most homogeneous major cities in the country, with nearly 70% of the population being white, my neighborhood in the South End is very much the opposite. In fact, a few years ago the neighborhood where my school is located, 98118, was considered to be among the most diverse zip codes in the country.

At Beach, we have approximately 95% students of color and over 50 languages spoken, making us the most diverse school in the Seattle School District. Nearly nine in ten students here receive free/reduced lunch, meaning the majority of us come from low income families, many of whom are immigrants. These statistics are exactly why I selected Beach when choosing a high school. I wanted to receive my education in a diverse multi-cultural setting. I didn’t want to be the only brown girl in my class. I wanted to belong.

Rainier Beach HS has experienced a renaissance in the last few years, sparked largely by the new International Baccalaureate program that “came to Rainier Beach largely at the insistence of South End parents desperate to make the school more attractive to families.” They also have a TEALS program wherein Microsoft employees teach classes in computer science. The author of the piece above credits this program with sparking a love for computer programming:

The editorial calls for two immediate changes for Rainier Beach students:

#1: End Seattle Public School’s ‘Walk-Zone rule’ that requires students who live within 2.5 miles of their school to walk or pay for their own public transportation. This negatively impacts low-income students who are less likely to have access to a car or a ride to school. As Ifrah lays out:

“The cost of a round trip bus ticket to school is $3 a day. To put this in perspective, remember that 88% of students at RBHS have free or reduced lunch. This means their family’s income is low enough that they cannot afford $1.50 a day for lunch. If a student cannot afford $1.50 a day for lunch, how can they be expected to pay for a bus that costs twice as much as lunch? Does that make any sense at all?”

I live in this zip code, and I technically fall within the ‘Walk-Zone.’ Google Maps says it would take me 45 minutes to walk to the school. That’s 45 minutes along the city’s most dangerous street (though I applaud the changes the city has finally started to make, narrowing parts of Rainier from four lane to two lane with turn lane). I would definitely not walk this, and I wouldn’t drive either: I would take the bus. Get these kids ORCA cards, that seems like a no-brainer.

hell no, that's not happening.

hell no, that’s not happening.

#2: Renovate the building to get it up to code both structurally and with the latest innovations in learning technology:

‘Built in 1960, our school is the only one in the district that has not yet received a full renovation. Just last year we had nearly 15 power outages, some of them causing us to attend school in the dark and cold, or even to close school for the day. Our school still has chalkboards, whereas schools in whiter and more affluent neighborhoods have smart boards and more advanced technological tools that enhance student learning. Each year, students here organize walk outs and protests, and attend school board and city hall meetings – but we only receive promises of a new building. Promises that go unfulfilled.

Students who face additional barriers to learning due to the challenges of living in poverty deserve more learning tools, not less. I mean, watch this: students walk out over aging school. That’s from 2012!

One last bit of insult to injury:

‘After the Day of Social Action, a representative from the school board came and visited our site, telling us the district had heard us loud and clear and would work to achieve the changes we asked for as quickly as possible. The school board suggested we send letters to the mayor as a follow-up, because they would need the city council to be on board. Interestingly enough, when I spoke to the mayor, he told me we should be speaking with the school district to get the results we were looking for.’

Government bureaucracies famous for giving people the run-around, why should our kiddos receive different treatment?


I share because I’m inspired by Ifrah and students like her, activist students demanding equal educational opportunities from school and city systems that have largely ignored them for too long. I’m inspired because it’s working: since the IB program, the school’s graduation rates are up to 79%, greater than the district average.

Whatever path my new career takes me, I hope it’s one where I can contribute to empowering young people through technology and direct action. If my past work in education reform has taught me anything, it’s that change will come from students and parent advocates. Doing things *to* a community doesn’t work. Rainier Beach HS is a stunning example of what’s possible when a community bands together to yell “this is what we need,” and makes it happen. My hope is that the changes that have worked will be sustainable after initial grant funding runs out, and that calls for even more school improvements (like ending the walk zones and upgrading the building) will be impossible to ignore. If this student is any indication of the student self-efficacy brewing at RBHS, they won’t go down without a fight.

I was a mathlete, too.


middle school mary, doing my best teenager scowl

I’ve seen a few articles circulating about the recent US victory at the International Mathematical Olympiad.

A colleague’s admission that he, too, is a former mathlete brought back my own nostalgia for those days.  I competed in middle school with two of my best friends at the time, Brianna and Liz, and about 4-5 boys in our class. So ours was a gender-mixed team and if I recall, that was the norm for other schools with which we competed. The winning US high school team is, not surprisingly, all male, which mirrors my own experience — by that time in my life I had dropped mathletes for other interests (drama club, chorus, literary magazine, stage crew, working at the local library). Brianna went on to an IB school and later studied math and psychology at Carnegie Mellon (she now runs initiatives supporting women and girls in science), and Liz went to the local public high school with me and later became a rocket scientist, so why I decided I was a book person and “not a numbers person” is a quandary for another post.

My favorite “mathlete” challenge were the relay races. We worked in teams of 3-4 where one person’s result gets passed to their teammate as input for the next question. I remember both the sense of personal responsibility (I have to solve my question so my teammate can start on hers) and the negotiations that sometimes occurred when an answer was passed that simply didn’t make sense. I don’t remember how much we were allowed to talk, if at all, but there must have been some mechanism for “that doesn’t work, can you check it again?” back up the chain. But mostly it worked. And it was awesome when it did.

Coding is a lot like these relay races. No matter what the language, we define functions that accept parameters and return a result. And if you work on a team with more than one programer, you are probably going to be working on a single feature or piece of code that combined with others (dependent on, necessary for) will produce something magnificent.

We need to make that connection for our girls earlier, so fewer of them will decide (consciously or unconsciously) that they are “not numbers people,” and see opportunities instead to use the skills they enjoy as budding programers, engineers, bloggers, hackers, and systems architects.

& life happens

20150506_104544 20150506_104551

Oh, hello May! I didn’t realize it had been quite that long since my last update. I’ve been a little busy. Right now in fact I am updating this blog instead of working on my vows, because, I am a procrastinator (and so can you!).

Hang on, though, I did complete the Treehouse and Code Academy Ruby tutorials this month before house and wedding stuff got the best of me:

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 12.49.53 PM


It’s going to be a system shock, but I have taken steps to prepare for my Ruby Foundations II class which begins immediately when I get back from our honeymoon, in fact I am missing the first class. (SEE Future Mary — I am trying to look out for you. I’m sure you’ll be fine. You got this.)

Continue reading

« Older posts

© 2022 Mary Dickson Diaz

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑